Author Topic: Microsferics TOA network 2022  (Read 1892 times)

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Offline relko

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Microsferics TOA network 2022
« on: March 30, 2022, 05:07:09 AM »
After several frustrating delays I'm happy to announce that Microsferics TOA network lightning detectors are in stock and ready to ship.

The Microsferics TOA Lightning Detection Network is open without restrictions to participants in North/Central America and Europe.

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If this is all new to you: Microsferics has been operational since 2015 but due to personnel changes in 2019 and more recently, global microchip supply shortages, the lightning detection hardware had to be revised multiple times which caused delays in getting the product finalized.

Each shipped device comes fully assembled and tested. The Microsferics TCU V5 system operates standalone (no PC required for network connection) and connects to a network router via Ethernet cable.

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What you get:
✅ TOA Compute Unit Version 5 (TCU V5)
✅ Outdoor E-field sensor
✅ External GPS antenna (5m/15ft cable)
✅ International 12V power supply

Where you get it: https://astrogenic.com/shop/product_info.php?products_id=70

Note that some items such as RG58 or RG6 Sat TV coax cable, Ethernet cable and sensor enclosure are not included as these things can often be found at home already or sourced locally for a lower cost. Other than this, the Microsferics TCU V5 is entirely plug-and-play.

A Windows and Ubuntu/Debian/Mint PC software is freely available to all operators. This is used for optional wireless LAN monitoring and device configuration, although the device also has built-in onboard configuration options and doesn't really need monitoring at all.

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On our forum there are also official and third party PHP scripts available to participants for displaying localized lightning on a website.

If you have any questions feel free to post them below.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2022, 05:35:08 AM by relko »

Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2022, 10:42:44 AM »
Hi guys!
Iím so happy to see this has made it to prime time! I have enjoyed using this for the past 6 years. Itís plug and play, no soldering parts on to boards, and the support is outstanding. Also, no waiting on a list that spans months and years! Relko is always available to help with any questions or concerns.
Join the network and contribute your lightning data today! :)

Offline krekel

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2022, 03:55:56 AM »
I have been involved in this project from the start in I believe 2015. There has been a difficult time due to the change of a technician, but fortunately the setbacks have been overcome. In addition, good technical progress has been made. The support is very good.
Microsferics is a wonderful project and I am still impressed that we detect very well with few stations.
I am still happy to participate in this project and have never regretted it. I hope we can welcome many new participants soon.

Brgds,
Oebel
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Offline DaleReid

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #3 on: April 02, 2022, 04:31:46 PM »
This is exciting to know another group is offering to help keep highly accurate location services up and running. 

I have been trying to track lightning since the original Boltek stuff became available.   Buying service from say WeatherTap or one of the Vaisala networks was so cost prohibitive.

I was within days of getting one of the original kits from Relko but got caught in the kerfluffle from his engineer.

Now I see another local weather enthusiast (Lorick) has a station up and running.

Two questions:  With is system up, is there any benefit to this group by me putting another online only 4 miles away, other than the unlikely event his will go off line from some electrical power surge or getting a direct strike himself?

Second, as a supplier of data once a station is set up, what additional or better resolution data mapping is available, or are the plotted results available to the general public the same as what the station managers get?  I would applaud the Microsferics group for making these plots available to all weather enthusiasts, but then I would wonder if those willing to put $500 USA towards a station might be hoping for a little something extra to sweeten the deal?

Dale
PS, one can NEVER have too many rain gauges, weather stations, or TOA stations. 
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Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2022, 08:02:36 AM »
Hi Dale.  Have two systems (JUP1 and JUP2) running within 20 miles of each other. The way it was explained to me is that it helps the network pick up strikes away from your area, but it wonít help nearby strikes because the system cancels out close strikes from stations that are too close to each other for the sake of accuracy.
However, if I hadnít have added the second station, we would still be in a dead spot in the southeast, so it has helped. I count on distant stations to pick up strikes that are closer to me as my stations donít count them.

Two questions:  With is system up, is there any benefit to this group by me putting another online only 4 miles away, other than the unlikely event his will go off line from some electrical power surge or getting a direct strike himself?


Offline DaleReid

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2022, 10:24:39 AM »
Thanks, Joe:

The problem with distant stations trying to triangulate the location is the azimuth error, even if tiny, becomes a huge factor at distance.

I've not seen nor read about how this system's designer has approached the math to try to filter out signals of less value. The ideal is to have equally scattered stations (not there yet, but with this new batch of equipment available the areas will start to fill in), and have the math pick the highest value, best condition to maximize accuracy.

To rule out a local station seeing a strike 3 miles away may have some value.  It certainly doesn't when the strike is 100 miles away and with a good separation of another station so that the angle is maximized.

Flying for many decades using VORs at a distance was proof enough that close is good, and angles of wider separation is good.  The factors I don't know are how the GPS timing signals can remove some of the observation error, with the timing available from GPS making the absolute best possible case something in the range of a kilometer anyway.

Lots that we don't know.  I'm hoping for a ton of stations to come on line and we can compare.  But your 20 miles apart stations (good for you!)  would be far different from Lorrick's and mine being about 4 miles apart, when there are few stations within states of us.

I don't recall if you are a Blitz participant also, but I looked at the sferics site last afternoon, and at the TOA (used to be IBM associated) and to the Blitz sites.  The facts for the time being (likely due to the lower number of stations) sferics was showing 1-3 strikes/minute, while Blitz with its hundreds of stations showing an almost blinding number of strikes, circles and reporting station lines to the storm that moved through your area (and was hitting the launch complex).

Until the spread and coverage of stations is more equal, the logic and rationale of the implementation of station filtering and more sophisticated code to pick the best of those stations reporting the same strike won't be known for sure, even if there IS a best approach.  More than one way to skin a cat, you know.

I'd love to hear more (either official or word of mouth) how these places approach the processing and selection  of signals to use.  Knowing just enough to be dangerous, I believe long distance propagation of the strike gets mussed up by the various paths it can take.  I think that the sweet spot is a couple hundred miles from the strike.

Dale
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Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2022, 10:48:09 AM »
Iím sure Relko will explain the technicalities of this far better than I can, but for longer range strikes, Iím hitting efficiencies of over 80% in most cases.
I am Blitzortung contributor as well. As soon as Microsferics gets more members up and running and filling in dead spots, the accuracy will be similar. The one really nice thing about this system is that it truly is plug and play(with some set up, but no soldering and such) and there are no waiting lists. Also Relko is very good at support whereas you donít hear from the developers on Blitzortung very often.

Offline relko

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #7 on: April 04, 2022, 06:03:51 AM »
Dale: Both Microsferics and Blitzortung use Time (Difference) Of Arrival (ToA) for locating lightning. There are no angles involved hence no azimuth errors to account for, although the ToA method has of course its own set of problems. With ToA, each lightning signal is timestamped on the detecting site and the data processing server can then compute a geographical position by analyzing a batch of different timestamps and site locations.

The simplified schematic below illustrates the ToA principle where T1-4 lines/circles show "time of flight" from the point source (a lightning discharge) to the receiving sensor. The ToA solution is the intersection of 4 or more circles and when the position is known, an exact time of event can be determined as well.

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Uncertainty of a ToA solution (a.k.a. error) is determined by performing a reverse check; Somewhat simplified, for each site that was involved in deriving a ToA solution an expected time of detection is computed. The result is an ellipse that will vary in shape and size depending on how much the accumulated expected times are off. A small ellipse signifies good accuracy/high confidence and vice versa. Plotted on a map it would look like this:

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Generally two sites in close proximity is not a problem in most cases. If the error is large, the second site can be used to try to refine the solution. If the error is within some predetermined acceptable limits, both sites are counted as providers of the ToA solution.

The main issue, as JupiterJoe touched upon, is when lightning is very close or overhead two nearby sites. There are a lot of weak cloud discharges in an active thunderstorm which are only detectable when the lightning activity is within a few miles/kms. This "natural noise", while very useful for single point lightning detection (used in e.g. NexStorm as Noise Ranging Assist to improve close storm distance estimations) is harmful for ToA purposes. It will overload the sensors with lightning data that sites farther away cannot detect. This will render the sites useless for a period until the storm moves away. We have some methods of partially dealing with the problem such as auto-adjustable sensitivity that reduces unwanted weak signal detections. It's an area of ongoing research.

Moreover, the other site in Eau Claire, which has been online since the inception of the North American network, is currently a V4 variant which taps its signal data from the Boltek sensor. The new V5 system comes with its own custom E-field sensor. The V5 is generally more sensitive and will detect more lightning farther away (2x in some cases) compared to Boltek.

Offline cjohlandt

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2022, 08:29:29 PM »
Hello all.  I'm thinking about purchasing one of the Microsferics TOA kits, but had some questions about antenna location and interference.  Where can I find more details about optimum siting?  The product page states the sensor "must be mounted some distance away from potential noise generating sources".  How can I determine what might be a noise generating source?  Would my solar panels be a noise generating source?  Also, I need some help with "some distance".  If I can get a good GPS signal, do I need to make sure I'm high enough to clear nearby houses and trees?  Is there a website or some other resource available?

Also, I have attempted to register for the astrogenics forum.  I received the initial welcome email but never got the follow-up email confirming acess.

Thank you!
-Chris

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Offline DaleReid

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2022, 08:59:42 PM »
Chris, I don't have a unit in hand yet, although it is on order.

I can perhaps give some general info to a couple of your site planning questions.  If you have a portable car GPS you might take it to the area you are considering to see what sort of GPS constellation you geet after it is on for awhile and registering satellites.  Mine will tell me how many, how 'good' the signal is from the satellite, and how many it calculates should be visible.

To refine it a bit, I have a Blitz unit running with the local unit's data visible on a little program provided by Blitz to do just that.  A nice pattern of satellites (for two units when I had a Red, also) showed no time that a good solid constellation for determining position and of course, time, wasn't locked in.  So if you can see most of the sky from say 30 degrees up, you are likely fine.  Do a GPS (I have Garmins in the cars).  I have a TOA unit that is on top of my shed and never got complaints from them unless I loose power and the UPS goes dead overnight, but they don't have as easily accessible health-o-meter as I call it to see what is going on. 

Trees seem to make little difference for my units.

As far as noise, I'm speaking from the old Boltek ADF type system and the Blitz systems, and things like dimmer switches in the house, certain kinds of motors (mostly those I have in the shed like Skil Saw and all but my lights are now all LED in the garage and shed and so far, knock on wood, they aren't showering the area with noise.  A neighbor 500' away sometimes welds and that really is a bad time.

Trying to use a noise sniffer wasn't easy for me to do and frankly I've forgotten what frequencies the other guys used to walk around looking for quite spots. 

I can't comment on the forum access, since I've not had too much time to do much other than look at the US web page display for Microsferics right now.

Maybe some of the other guys (and gals?) with a station already on line could add more detail or email you directly.  Hope this helps and is of some encouragement.  Dale
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Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2022, 09:28:04 PM »
Hi Chris.
The higher the better and outside is best. Away from power lines, fluorescent lights, etc, and solar panels might cause some noise as well. I originally had mine outside and above the apex of the roof and it was great. I moved and now itís in the attic, as far away from wires and electrical sources as possible. It still works very good. There is an ac air handler about 10 feet from it and it doesnít seem to be too bad.
The gain and squelch are automatic, so if it does pick up noise, it adjusts. There is a sensitivity switch on the antenna itself, and I have had to set it to low because it can pick up much more noise that way. High sensitivity might be for a really quiet location.
You can walk around the house with a portable AM radio set to the lower frequencies and get some idea about noise sources.
As far as gps goes, mine is on an inside window sill and is in between two houses, but I never have a problem. Itís about 99.97% available.
You just have to do some testing in different spots. I usually do this before I find a permanent spot for the antenna.
I hope we can see you online with us, youd be in an area thatís in need of some stations for sure!
Joe

Offline cjohlandt

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2022, 09:30:28 PM »
Thank you Dale!  This helps a lot.  I've got a GPS signal app on my phone that provides the number of satellites and signal strength.  Looking forward to reading what others have to say about potential noise sources and distance from those noise sources.

-Chris

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Offline cjohlandt

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2022, 09:34:09 PM »
Thank you Joe!  Glad to hear that an attic installation might be an option.  I'll walk around with an AM radio this weekend and see what I discover.

-Chris

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Offline relko

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #13 on: April 08, 2022, 03:02:06 AM »
Hi Chris,

A noise source is basically anything that runs on electricity. Fridges, washing machines, dish washers, AC's, or your friendly neighbor who covertly runs a furniture build shop with frequent use of power tools (personal experience). So "some distance" will be very site specific and depend on what kind of noise source are present in the area. Many noise sources are intermittent in nature and will not cause problems. For example, a water/pool pump, fridge cooling system etc. that turns on may generate a series of false detections for some milliseconds but will then go silent. A poorly shielded electric motor in e.g. a constantly running AC unit may on the other hand render the detector useless. It is impossible to predict suitability of a site and as JupiterJoe recommended, utilizing an AM radio is a good method for identifying noisy areas or finding quiet spots.

Attic installation is okay as long as there are no major metallic or concrete structures that may interfere with E-field reception. Wood, brick, plaster etc. are all fine in that respect.

As for solar panels, I am surrounded with houses that have roof mounted solar panels with the closest one being less than 30 ft away. Some intermittent noise is not uncommon although in my experience this noise is relatively weak and easily dealt with by increasing the squelch slightly or lowering gain by 1x, or just let the automatic feature adjust this for you. I'm running my sensor in high sensitivity mode in an area that is very active in terms of noises.

GPS reception is usually not a problem. My own GPS external antenna is laying on the floor in my office near a glass door looking out towards the garden. It is sometimes moved around randomly in the room or turned upside down by the vacuum robot (or wife) and I have not lost signal once in 4+ years.

Concerning your forum sign-up: It appears that one of the forum admins inadvertently deleted your account thinking it was spam. Please try again, I have flagged the user name you used to sign up as legitimate so this shouldn't happen again. Sorry for the inconvenience.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2022, 03:04:18 AM by relko »

Offline cjohlandt

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2022, 08:26:24 PM »
Thank you Relko.  Very helpful.  I think I've got a few good options for placement, so I placed the order last night.  Looking forward to contributing to the network.

-Chris

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Offline cjohlandt

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #15 on: May 12, 2022, 11:33:30 PM »
For those that have the Microsferics TOA kit, how long should it take to ship to the United States?  I ordered the kit and accessories on April 12, 2022.  The last update on the shipper's website is April 19, 2022.

Thanks.
-Chris

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Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #16 on: May 12, 2022, 11:41:04 PM »
It took about a month to make it to me. Where does the tracking info say it is?

Offline cjohlandt

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #17 on: May 13, 2022, 12:15:09 AM »
I'm at a month now.  I know shipping can take longer these days, so I'm not in panic mode yet.  The last post on the Austrian Post tracking site says "Item handed over at the airport 04:30 Postal code ATVIEA"  It looks like they lost visibility once they handed it over at the airport.

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Offline relko

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #18 on: May 13, 2022, 12:52:04 AM »
I'm at a month now.  I know shipping can take longer these days, so I'm not in panic mode yet.  The last post on the Austrian Post tracking site says "Item handed over at the airport 04:30 Postal code ATVIEA"  It looks like they lost visibility once they handed it over at the airport.

I have forwarded this case to my partner in Austria who is handling the shipping, will keep you updated via email. If it turns out to be lost we'll send a new unit, no need to panic.

Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #19 on: May 13, 2022, 01:03:11 AM »
It took a long time from when it was handed over to the airport to when it popped back up in the United States.

Offline relko

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #20 on: May 13, 2022, 01:42:47 AM »
Joe, according to my tracking records the last two packages sent to US by AT post took 7 days from "handed over" to "arrived in country of destination". A month with no activity raises some warning flags and needs to be investigated.

Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #21 on: May 13, 2022, 07:45:51 AM »
Oh, i thought me meant it was a month total, from order to now.


Joe, according to my tracking records the last two packages sent to US by AT post took 7 days from "handed over" to "arrived in country of destination". A month with no activity raises some warning flags and needs to be investigated.

Offline DaleReid

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #22 on: May 13, 2022, 10:30:04 AM »
I'm hoping the delay that I experienced from when mine arrived in the USA until the post office finally delivered it (quite safely, nicely packaged) to me can move along.  Nothing that Microsferics can do about that hitch, which must be customs and the USPS. I think, if memory serves me correctly) that it was in the USA but not going anywhere, lasted at least a week, then finally got moving towards the midwest where I am.

We certainly need more stations and I hope that the ease of setting up the stations and coming on the air quickly will attract those with interest.  I have three, well four, different lightning type stations and the experience of the first ones of course helps, but I was impressed with how easy it was to set up and having gotten a few little things out of the way, was up quickly.

If you are at all on the fence about getting a station and participating in this hobby and contributing to the overall data gathering that this project offers, I'd strongly encourage you to jump on board.

Dale
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Offline cjohlandt

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #23 on: May 13, 2022, 09:41:43 PM »
Thank you all for the input.  Joe and Dale, did you have any tracking information when it arrived in the US?  All I have is the Austrian Post tracking number.

Relko, thank you for looking into this.  Hopefully Johann will be able to provide additional information.

I'm looking forward to contributing to the network.

-Chris

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Offline JupiterJoe

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Re: Microsferics TOA network 2022
« Reply #24 on: May 13, 2022, 10:18:04 PM »
If I remember correctly, it transferred to usps tracking once it got here. But it took a while.

 

anything